Regional News Wed, 25 Feb 2004

Soldiers ended my ambition to become an airhostess- Witness tells NRC

Cape Coast, Feb. 25, GNA- Madam Charlotte Rockson, a 49-year-old trader based at Takoradi on Wednesday, told the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) on its second day of public hearing in Cape Coast, how her ambition to become an air hostess was shattered when a soldier hit her on the eye with a cane, permanently damaging it.

Madam Rockson, who was 25 at that time, said she had just enrolled at the workers' college to study as an airhostess. Witness, was invited by the Commission to tell her story, when her mother, Madam Elizabeth Owoo, one of the petitioners, in her evidence had earlier told the Commission the fate of her daughter. Madam Rockson told the Commission that sometime in June 1979, she was in the house when she heard people shouting for her outside and she went to enquire, thinking something had happened to her three-year-old daughter.

She said when she got there, she met some soldiers, some of them holding canes and asked her if she was called Maame Essamuah and when she replied in the affirmative, they took her to a room which her mother, who was a trader in cooking utensils at that time used as a warehouse and asked her if the goods in the room belonged to her.

Madam Rockson said she was being beaten all this while, and that it was in the process that one of the soldiers hit her on the right eye with a cane, causing extensive damage to it.

She said while there, a senior military officer came to tell the soldiers that the goods in the room was not what they were looking for, but the soldiers still took away a box of plastic cups and some provisions from the room.

She said "a couple of operations" were first conducted on the eye at the European Hospital in Takoradi, where she was admitted twice and that she was later sent to Britain to seek further treatment, but to no avail, and has permanently lost the eye.

Madam Rockson however, stated that "she wants the Lord to forgive the soldier who damaged her eye, because he was apparently, not aware of what he had done".

She said she has from time to time, had to go for medical check-up, and appealed to the authorities for assistance.

The Chairman of the Commission, Mr Justice Kobina Amua-Sekyi, expressed concern about Madam Rockson's story, saying "it breaks our hearts to hear such stories" which have left people with permanent deformities, and declared that society must recognise mistakes of the past and show remorse.

Earlier, her mother, Madam Owoo told the Commission that soldiers collapsed her business when they took away a large consignment of cooking utensils she was trading in, and later she had to spend huge sums of money on treatment of her daughter whose eye was damaged.

She said she and her niece were on their way to the Takoradi market to sell the utensils packed in 50 boxes, and loaded on a truck, when they were confronted by soldiers and accused her of going to hoard them.

She said although she denied the allegation, the soldiers took them to the Airforce station barracks and later invited one Nana Dekyi, whom she told the soldiers that he supplied her with the utensils, and her elder sister in whose house she kept them.

Nana Dekyi, who was then the Chief of Dixcove, was released by the soldiers with the promise that she, her sister and her niece will soon be released, but shortly after, the soldiers flogged them on a table one after the other and locked them up in a guardroom with other people who were arrested.

She said she and her sister and the niece were later released that same day, and ordered to report the next day at the Apremdu barracks, but she went alone, because her sister was too ill to go, and when she got there, she was asked to remove her cover cloth and the soldiers begun to shave her head with a razor and a broken bottle. In the process, a senior army officer came by and ordered her release and that with her head half shaved, she was sent home with a threat that they would turn up to conduct a search in her house, and that its was when they came to carry out that search that her daughter got injured in the eye.

Madam Owoo, did however, not ask the Commission for any compensation, because as she put it "it has already happened", and stressed that all Ghanaians should use this as a lesson to ensure that such incidents do not occur again.

Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine described several of such incidents, which he said have been narrated before the Commission, as "just madness" and that they were senseless, inhuman, brutal and uncalled for.

Another witness on behalf of members of the Western Region branch of the Association of former guards at the Presidential Details Department (PDD) in the Nkrumah regime, Mr John Cobbina Ndede, told the Commission that he was recruited into the PDD from the police service in 1964.

He said after the 1966 coup, he reported at the James town police station, hoping he would be reinstated as announced in the newspapers, but he was instead taken to the Nsawam prison where he met some of his colleagues from the PDD.

Mr Ndede said he was tortured and later transferred to Ussher Fort while some of his colleagues were sent to the Sekondi Prison. He said he was released after four months.

According to him, as a result of a 10-year ban on employment of security men at that time, he and his colleagues numbering about 100, were unable to find jobs and had since then gone through a lot of hardships.

He said they are however receiving pension now following a petition to the Ombudsman, and are petitioning the Commission for upward adjustment in their pension, as well as compensation for those who lost their properties.

A former production supervisor at the Takoradi flour mills, Mr Rockefeller Kwesi Hayford, on his part, told the Commission how he was arrested, detained and tortured and four times threatened with execution, in 1982 by soldiers, following accusations in an anonymous letter that he and some members of management had disposed of 2,200 bags of flour and shared the proceeds.

He said the soldiers, also killed his younger brother and confiscated his (witness') car, which they used for their operations and later returned the car to him when he was released.

He therefore prayed the Commission to be compensated for the loss of his brother who had a child at the time of his death, lost his vehicle and the bad treatment meted out to him.

Mr James Fred Ampiaw, a retired police officer, told the Commission that he was among a group of police men posted from Takoradi to Accra to take part in "operation find the bomb", after a bomb had gone off at Kunlungugu, during President Nkrumah's visit there. He said he slipped and fell while on vehicle checking duty on the Accra-Aburi road and had to be discharged from the service a year later due to the fracture he sustained, but was later enlisted into the PDD and arrested and detained in the Sekondi, Usher fort and Nsawam prisons. He said he was however not tortured, received medical treatment in prison and was released two years later, to find that he had lost all his property.

According to him, he received four pounds sterling from the service as his benefits, but later agreed that it was 89 pounds four shillings, when Professor Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, drew his attention to the fact that a receipt he witness had provided the Commission, indicated that he had received the latter amount.

Mr Ampiaw, who said his wife and his baby got involved in an accident while they were on their way to visit him in prison, and are still suffering as a result of the injuries they received, expressed bitterness that he "had been neglected by the state" inspite of the fact that he was injured while serving the nation.

He therefore asked that he should be given free medical care as well as compensation for his "loyal services" to the nation. Mr Gaddiel Hackman Otoo a retired teacher at Abakrampa, wanted the Commission "to bring pressure to bear" on the Omanhene of the Abura traditional area, Nana Otu X, to replace a family house he the (chief) demolished in 1979.

He told the Commission that, that year, Nana Otu ordered that his family house which stood in front of his palace and contained nine rooms, be demolished because there was no space in front of the palace. Mr Otoo said although the chief promised to resettle them and had a piece of land cleared for the construction of a house to replace theirs, after persistent demands, he failed to honour the promise. He said rather, he and his family have been given some structures which could not even be "described as rooms", which belonged to L. Rose Company Ltd at that time, to live in.

Mr Otoo, who is now blind, said he himself is now living in a house without any toilet or bath, and that he had to be assisted to bath or attend toilet in someone's house.

Professor Mensa- Bonsu wondered if Mr Otoo's petition, was a case for the Commission, since the chief was not a public officer, and asked him if he had sought redress from the traditional council, which in her view, was a more appropriate channel for redress.

Source: GNA
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